The early life history of the sea lamprey, from hatching to the first capture of metamorphosed individuals, is described from observations on a known-age population isolated in a tributary of southern Lake Superior. The population had its origin in the spring of 1960, when 722 sea lampreys nearing spawning condition were introduced into the Big Garlic River, Marquette County, Michigan, a stream that had previously been free of lampreys because physical barriers prevented their upstream migration. The adults constructed 206 nests and spawned in 161 of them; an estimated 774,000 larvae were hatched. The average total lengths of larvae collected in October (when yearly growth was nearly complete) in 1960-65 were 13, 39, 63, 80, 92, and 107 mm in the successive years.
A specially designed inclined-plane trap, installed at the lower end of the study area to monitor the downstream movement of larval and newly metamorphosed lampreys, captured 7,562 larvae in 1962-65 (none in 1960-61). The annual catch increased sharply from 9 in 1962 to 370 in 1963, 2,847 in 1964, and 4,336 in 1965. About 90% of each annual catch was taken by June 30. Most movement was at night.
A total of 5,642 larvae were marked in 1962-65 by the subcutaneous injection of an insoluble dye, to study movement and distribution; 222 were recovered as larvae through 1965 (17 in the trap and 205 with an electric shocker). The recoveries of marked lampreys, the increase in density of larvae in the farthest downstream section of the study area, and the annual catches in the trap demonstrated that a large part of the population gradually shifted downstream. On the other hand, many larvae were still within less than 1 km from the place of hatching, after more than 5 years.
The capture of four recently metamorphosed sea lampreys (two males and two females), 152-172 mm long, in the fall of 1965, established the minimum age at transformation for larvae in the Big Garlic River at 5 years. Age and length (with the exception of a possible minimum length) were determined not to be critical factors in metamorphosis. The presence of larvae 65-176 mm long (mean, 107 mm) in the river in 1965 indicated that metamorphosis of lampreys in a single year class takes place over a period of years.